Indigenous peoples are among the most deprived in the world

January 11, 2002

Indigenous peoples are among the most deprived in the world, especially when it comes to education. THES reporters consider what progress they have made.

The world's 300 million First Nations peoples are primary victims of social exclusion, languishing on the margins of post-colonial society for decades.

They are plagued by poverty, discrimination, unemployment and, ultimately, despair. It is only in recent years that campaigns for social justice have brought their plight to the attention of the more privileged in society after years of neglect and hostility.

Access to a university education has been the exception rather than the norm. But with two years remaining in the United Nations International Decade of the World's Indigenous People, signs that governments were taking seriously their obligation to provide educational opportunities at the highest levels for the First Nations peoples appear premature.

The UN general assembly identified education as one of a range of issues that required stronger international collaboration - the others were human rights, the environment, development and health. Subsequently, Unesco pledged to strive to: 

* Facilitate indigenous people's access to higher education

* Foster the establishment of indigenous universities

* Develop higher education programmes that incorporate indigenous knowledge and culture.

The decade has seen a higher profile for indigenous peoples at mainstream universities and more academic attention to their societies and cultures in many subjects outside anthropology. Simultaneously, in Australia, Mexico and Canada, universities for indigenous peoples have opened and begun to thrive.

But, as the rise of Hansonism in Australia has shown, special measures for indigenous peoples can be politically contentious. In Canada, the funding for special initiatives for its First Nations peoples has reached a plateau after a period of growth.

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